Apple may not have a case against Psystar

— 3:09 PM on April 16, 2008

IT company Psystar Corporation made headlines earlier this week when it started selling a Mac clone without Apple's blessing. Dubbed the "Open Computer," Psystar's machine starts at $400 and can be ordered with a copy of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard pre-installed. Psystar bills the system as a superior alternative to the "stripped-down and still expensive" Mac mini.

In our report yesterday, we pointed out that Psystar is violating the terms of Apple's end-user license agreement for Mac OS X. However, Wired now reports that legal experts are dubious that Apple has the legal ground to pull the Open Computer off the market. Patent lawyer Raj Abhyanker, who used to write patents for Apple, explains, "Basically, when people go to a store or download software, they have a license with Apple to use this patented software on their computer. But breach of contract is one of the weakest forms of legal disputes."

According to Abhyanker, there isn't much Apple can do about Psystar, and the iPod maker "will have trouble" preventing other firms from following Pystar's example and selling "Macs" made from off-the-shelf components. Ted Man, another lawyer who specializes in IP and patents, adds that breaking an end-user license agreement "technically isn't illegal" and that penalties vary from state to state.

Apple's only other legal recourse could be a patent or copyright infringement lawsuit, but Abhyanker thinks Apple may not even have a case there. Rather, he believes Apple's only realistic avenue for thwarting Psystar and potential copycats would be to issue updates for Mac OS X that would break compatibility with unlicensed clones.

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